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Credit card cautions
May 18, 2014, 12:05 pm

Chances are you will be using credit cards regularly during your trips this travel season. Credit cards come in handy not only to book tickets and hotel rooms but also to pay for many of the 'deals' you come across while shopping abroad. While these cards are definitely a convenience there are a few things you need to be wary of, both to safeguard your money and to ensure peace of mind during the trip and after.

Call before you go: Especially if you are travelling overseas, it is always wise to alert your credit card company. Otherwise, if you leave and start charging purchases in a foreign land, your credit card company will likely flag those transactions as suspicious. They might try contacting you by phone to verify the transactions, or they could simply freeze your card, playing havoc with travel plans.

To avoid those scenarios, pick up the phone and call your issuer, using the number on the back of your card. Many card issuers let you do the same thing online. Log onto your account and look for 'travel notification' or a similar tab, where you can fill in the dates and countries where you will be traveling. Even if you are a frequent traveler it can never hurt to call your credit card issuer and alert them of impending trips.

Know the numbers: Keep a copy of your card's toll-free customer service numbers with you, separate from your wallet, in case you need to report a loss or theft. Bury one in your luggage; send a copy to a friend or family member, just in case it is needed.
Also, many travel experts recommend carrying two credit cards, keeping one as your backup in case your main card is lost or stolen.
Get your freebies: Many consumers are not aware of little-known benefits that come free with their credit cards. Depending on the card and the issuing bank, the perks can range from free travel insurance, coverage for lost, damaged or delayed luggage and complimentary entry to select airport lounges. Some cards even offer hotel room upgrades, discounts on purchases and referrals to doctors or lawyers in a foreign country. In all cases, to find out what your card covers, read the fine print in your service agreement or look it up online.

Minimize fees: Most credit cards add a 1 to 3 percent currency conversion fee to the cost of any purchase outside the issued country. Some cards however, have eliminated it entirely. If you have more than one credit card, you might want to check the fees and use the one with the lowest foreign transaction fee.
When travelling overseas, you will likely be hit by ATM fees when you are getting cash withdrawals in local currency. There are a couple ways to minimize these fees, which can be as high as $US5 per transaction in some cases.
Find out from your card issuer if they have partnerships with bank ATMs in other countries.
When doing ATM cash withdrawals, get large amounts so you are not making frequent ATM stops and incurring fees.
In general, use a debit card to make cash withdrawals, because of lower fees compared with most credit cards. For large purchases, like hotel stays, car rentals, shopping, use your credit card. At all costs, avoid going to a currency exchange office or airport kiosk, which typically charge high currency conversion fees.

Chipped cards: Credit cards with embedded chip technology are an additional security feature intended to curb, or at least make it harder for cyber-thieves to steal your credit card info. These so-called micro-chipped cards are standard in Europe, but while they could become mandatory for cards worldwide soon, many countries still use the old magnetic-stripe technology.
Automated kiosks and other card readers in Europe and elsewhere now accept only micro-chipped card versions. Find out in advance if your bank has the option of chipped cards and get your old magnetic cards replaced as it decreases your chances of running into problem in a foreign land.

Pay bills in advance: Do not forget to pay off credit card bills before leaving, so you don't come home to unanticipated late fees or other penalties. Especially if you will be gone for an extended period; you can pay your monthly bill ahead of time or set up an online automatic payment.

Check your limits: If you will be charging lots on your trip, be sure you have got enough available credit on your card. Overspending could cause your card transaction to be denied or you could get hit with penalties on your next bill. To avoid those unpleasant surprises, contact your card issuer before traveling and ask about raising your credit limit. Otherwise, monitor your travel spending so you do not go over the card limit.


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